Enhancing the Undergraduate Experience

Spartan HelmetOur commitment to cultivating practices of inclusion as a matter of institutional habit, has led us to restructure the administrative support for our undergraduate program by appointing an Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, Diversity and Inclusion. This restructuring is motivated by the recognition that our efforts to diversify our faculty and student body in the College of Arts & Letters must be rooted in a commitment to diversifying the curriculum. 

Last year, we initiated a robust Inclusion Initiative that involves three dimensions: 1) developing more diverse curriculum and co-curricular activities across the College, drawing on our four College priorities; 2) investing in integrated structures of support and mentoring for underrepresented faculty, graduate students and undergraduates; 3) partnering with units across the University, including the Academic Advancement Network (AAN), to take the lead in educating the University community about the complex and pernicious mechanisms of institutional prejudice.

In order to facilitate the development of a more diverse curriculum, we created an Engaged Pedagogy and Programming fund for proposals that support efforts to integrate content connected to critical diversity and intersectional scholarship into the curriculum. The Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, Diversity and Inclusion has facilitated a series of workshops to advance emerging curriculum in this area. Our hiring initiatives are tied to these efforts, both through our Critical Diversity in a Digital Age initiative and more broadly across the College, so that we will be able to recruit and retain faculty committed in their scholarship to the diverse curriculum we intend to cultivate. With regard to mentoring and leadership, we are working with the AAN to facilitate more robust leadership development for our faculty and to implement a mentoring corps that will create an institutional structure that does not depend on inconsistent one-on-one mentoring organized at the department level. The College has sponsored approximately eight National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity Faculty Success Program registrations for mostly untenured faculty and will do so again for the 2017 session.

A 21st century arts and humanities undergraduate education must offer extensive and supported opportunities for students to deepen their awareness of their place in a global world, to cultivate digital fluencies and ethical thinking, and to engage in professional development in order to make a successful transition to meaningful work.

To this end, we launched our Citizen Scholars Program this year and have started a planning and exploration process that will create an experiential learning requirement integrated with a new, more comprehensive approach to career networking and alumni relations that will position our students to chart successful paths from MSU to leadership in fulfilling careers. A liberal arts education at Michigan State University does not simply prepare students for jobs that have yet to be created or imagined, but more importantly, it positions them to be leaders in professions committed to creating a better world.

This year, we established the structure of the Citizen Scholars Program, appointed its inaugural director, Professor Sandra Logan, and its student advisor, Sarah Whitaker, and welcomed 82 new aspirants who have committed themselves to being the citizen leaders of tomorrow. The program has three dimensions: aspiration, reward and elevated expectation. All students with at least one major in the College, regardless of their academic record prior to arriving at MSU, who are willing to make the effort will be challenged to perform their way into the Citizens Scholars program by enrolling in challenging courses and achieving at a high level of academic excellence. Students who demonstrate sustained academic excellence over two semesters will be admitted as Citizen Scholars and rewarded with $5,000 of enrichment funding to be used for required study abroad/internship/engaged undergraduate research experiences. Raising funds for this program is a College priority, and our early success in this area of philanthropy suggests that the program will have substantive and sustained support among our friends and alumni.

We have initiated a new Experiential Learning (ExL) initiative in the College of Arts
& Letters that is designed to ensure that our students have the experiences they need to chart a path to meaningful careers and a fulfilling life. The faculty is considering an experiential learning requirement that would be tied to a newly developed career network that will focus our efforts in career and professional networking and experiential learning. The network will provide an innovative hub in which there is a continuum of care for student professional development that starts when students enter MSU and continues as they move into careers after graduation. Pulling together our resources in student success, career services, experiential learning, alumni relations and advising, we will create career communities in the College and provide a holistic experience that prepares the whole person to live an enriching life.

We continue to partner with the HUB for Innovation in Learning and Technology and the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education and Dean of Undergraduate Studies to pilot an innovative integrative studies curriculum designed to improve our retention rates for students at risk of dropping out after their first semester.

Our MSU Media Arts Collaborative with the College of Communication Arts and Sciences (ComArtSci) and the College of Music continues to support collaborative projects between the colleges that enrich the undergraduate learning experience and provide faculty opportunities to work together on innovative media arts projects. ComArtSci and CAL have agreed on a goal to raise $2 million in a shared endowment that would enable us to provide $100,000 of funding annually to undergraduate projects that cut across colleges working on media arts. In addition, the College of Music has agreed to partner with us through its own fundraising initiatives as well as by committing expendable and endowment funds to collaborative projects in media arts. We are beginning to have some fundraising success with the initiative after our high-profile presence at the 2016 Traverse City Film Festival in which one of our documentary films, From Flint: Voices of a Poisoned City, won a 2016 Student Academy Award.

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